The following statement from one of the forums I belong to caught my attention, “The use of AI [Artificial Intelligence] in a higher education environment is very intriguing.” The submitter went on to ask for thoughts on the pros and cons. Here are some of brief first thoughts that came to mind.
I immediately thought, “Has there been any other moments in history that were perceived, in advance of it happening, as being ‘intriguing’? Did the inventors of flight ask themselves how this would change transportation?”
The use of Artificial Intelligence [AI] in all industries will be very intriguing as applications of its use are still to be defined and there is not a clear picture of the end, or the direction we are going. Within higher education, there will be several paths of AI’s evolution; the academic side, the “business” (functions, such as, Finance, HR and Procurement) side and then the convergence of these two. On the academic side; an example of AI will be in support of the students and educators in providing faster, more in-depth access to information – the web on a high dose of steroids. AI will reduce (not completely) the requirement of individuals to ask the questions. AI will ‘know’ the student’s academic degree and areas of interest, will know the planned and intended usage and know the desired outcome. With this knowledge AI will provide access to the answers or create paths to the answers. All of this guidance through a variety of technological solutions, one being the interaction with their personal assistants within their devices (Note: I am not saying laptop, computer, phone, watch, etc. because I don’t want to limit the future.).
What I find of greater interest is on the convergence side. Today, many educational institutions are under tremendous economic pressure. For a few years now, we have been hearing about how these institutions need to act more like businesses. To do this, they are looking more critically as to how to manage expenses, generate revenue or just stay alive. Imagine through big data analysis, educational institutions have extensive access to knowing who their ‘customers’ are. This knowledge will come from many sources, such as, recruiting efforts, admissions and the academic experiences of students and the faculty.
Following the premise that institutions have (nearly) unlimited access to data, here is a practical concept to consider within only one department; IT (Information Technology).
Utilizing IoT (Internet of Things) technologies, imagine being able to ‘track’ and understand all of a student’s real-world (visits to the dining hall, the library, how long they were there, what they ate, what books [what are books?] they looked at, etc.) and online use (how long they spent on the institution’s websites, or not, etc.). With all of this data, institutions will use AI to assess what technological investments and support they need out of their IT departments; thus, greater control of IT budgets, resulting in lower or better managed expenses.
The above profiled use of AI technologies and big data analytics within higher education will be one direction, however, there is larger issue here today and I project will grow substantially (Hopefully, not at the same pace as presented in ‘Moore’s Law’). This “issue” came to my attention when the author made a request for thoughts on the “…potential downsides…” I believe these new technologies are bringing us (human society) to a ‘fourth wave’ of evolution (see Alvin Toffler’s “Third Wave” for context on the previous evolutionary points). As with the other evolutionary waves, we are once again faced with the very serious societal impact topic of ‘good vs evil‘ during these historic periods. Each previous wave had its social benefits and consequences. While there are many, many positive opportunities with technology, equally there are many examples today of using evolving technologies in a harmful way e.g. cyber hacking in its many forms.
Which topic should we be engaging in; AI in higher education (or name your industry) or good versus evil in technology – intriguing?